Relief From Jaw Pain

A TMJ Story That Has A Happy Ending 

Author: Julie Donnelly, LMT –The Pain Relief Expert

Editor: Dr. Steve Chaney 

Summer And The Living Is Easy

good newsAs the song goes: ”…Summertime and the living is e-a-s-y….”  Here in Florida, we know that the living is easy because it’s so hot who wants to be doing anything except either sitting in the shade, or inside in the air conditioning.  Personally, I don’t think this summer was so bad, especially the evenings, but then, I really hate the cold so maybe my opinion is biased.

To stay in alignment with “living is easy,” I’m taking the advice of a few experts who teach easy ways to stay calm, motivated, and happy.  I’m taking a 30-day break from the news.  It’s so much in my face lately that it’s really affecting me in a very negative way.  I am going on a “news fast” for 30 days. Absolutely no negative news of any kind for a full month.  I’m surrounded by news all day so it’s a challenge, but I’ve found a great substitute:  Their mission is to be an antidote to the barrage of negativity experienced in the mainstream media.

This month I had several requests to explain how muscles can be a primary cause of TMJ.  The initials “TMJ” stand for Temporal Mandibular Joint.  Basically, it’s the hinge that enables you to open your mouth and chew.  The problem is when it is pulled out of alignment you have jaw pain. You may also have some painful clicking in the area that is behind your last molars, the location of the joint.

A TMJ Story That Has A Happy Ending

tmj painAbout 15 years ago I was seeing clients in my office, which was located in Dr. Zev Cohen’s medical office.  Frequently Dr. Cohen would ask me to look at one of his patients because he felt their problem was muscular, and each time it was being caused by tight muscles.  He liked the results we were achieving, and I was happy to be a valuable part of his Internal Medicine team.

On day a young woman, around 32 YO, came in on a Sunday because she had forgotten to have her own doctor fill in a form she needed in order to have surgery performed the next day. Dr. Cohen was open on Sundays (closed on Saturday) so she came to get surgical clearance. I just happened to be there doing some work in my office, but not to see clients.

Dr. Cohen asked the woman why she needed surgery and she explained that her jaw was locked tight, and the Oral surgeon was going to sever the masseter muscle.  That simple-sounding surgery has a serious side-effect….you can’t close your mouth!  She would have walked around with her mouth hanging open for the rest of her life!  Plus, when your mouth is open, you drool. That would have been her life if she hadn’t forgotten to get that form signed!

When Dr. Cohen looked at her masseter muscle, he found it felt like she had stuffed her cheeks with nuts.  There were so many spasms that it was locking her back teeth together and she couldn’t open her mouth.  She didn’t need surgery, she needed to untie the knots in her masseter muscle.

Since I was there, Dr. Cohen had me work on this muscle, and then as always, I showed her how to do it.  It took only about 15 painful minutes to release all the spasms.  When I was finished, I had her sit up and I showed her what to do.  At the very end I had her pressing on both sides of her jaw, and slowly open her mouth.  She was shocked to see that she could do it.

Then I had her take her hands away and just open her mouth.  We both started to cry when she opened her mouth all the way without any pain.  She was saved from a surgery that would have had a lifetime of drooling and dryness.

I don’t know why her doctor, or the oral surgeon didn’t know to tell her to do this, but it’s something I try to share with as many people as possible.  I hope you will pass this newsletter along since you may save someone from the same potential surgery.

The Masseter Muscle

tmj pain relief muscleThe masseter muscle (circled in red) connects your cheekbone to your jawbone.  When it contracts you chew your food or clench your teeth.

If you put your flat fingers (fingerprints) on your cheeks and then clench, you will feel your masseter contract.

If you chew gum or clench your teeth frequently the muscle contracts and then shortens.  The problem is, when it is shortened and you try to open your mouth to yawn or put food into your mouth, the muscle won’t lengthen to allow them movement.

If one side is tighter than the other side, your jaw will pull toward the tight side, “click” and hurt when you try to open your mouth.  This is the common symptom of TMJ.  If both sides are shortened, you won’t be able to open your mouth fully. This is what was happening to the woman I mentioned above.

Relief From Jaw Pain

tmj pain treatment reliefPress your three fingers into the masseter muscle on both sides of your jaw, but only use pressure on one side.

Press as deeply as you can tolerate and hold the pressure for 5-10 seconds.  Lighten up the pressure on that side and repeat on the opposite side.

Do this alternating press/release all over the muscle. Continue alternating, and eventually moving along the entire length of the muscle until you have covered it from your cheek bone to your jawbone.

Finally, press both sides at the same time and slowly open your mouth as wide as possible.  Slowly close your mouth, and then repeat this stretch 3-4 times.

Do this as often as needed to get total relief.  Since this problem happens because of a repetitive movement, it may return.  Just do the treatment before it becomes a problem, and the situation will be eased.

Wishing you well,

Julie Donnelly 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Which Muscles Are Affected By Stress?

It’s Time For The Beach

Beach At SunsetThis is a perfect time to go to the beach – August is hot and humid, and the water feels so refreshing.  Of course, we now need to socially distance ourselves from each other, but for those of us in Florida that is possible when we have so many beautiful beaches close to our homes.

Most of us are sticking close to home, and summer sure isn’t what it has been in years past. The baseball season was on – then off – and as of right now, who knows!  Most of the people I know are getting through this okay, I hope you are too!

Which Muscles Are Affected By Stress?

We are living in stressful times, and chronic stress can cause your muscles to tighten. When that happens, it can lead to pain in unexpected places. When you visit your doctor, they may recommend drugs or aggressive treatments.

Unfortunately, many doctors are unaware tight muscles can be the real cause of your pain. They don’t know that there are simple treatments that can release your tight muscles and relieve the pain – without resorting to drugs.

This week I will address the top 3 muscles that are affected by chronic stress and how to treat those muscles when they cause you pain.

Levator Scapulae MuscleLevator Scapulae: This is, in my opinion, the #1 muscle that gets involved when we are under stress.  The nickname for the Levator Scapulae is “the shrug muscle” because when it contracts normally you lift your shoulders up….you shrug.

The problem is, the muscle originates on your first four cervical vertebrae, and inserts into your shoulder blade. When you are under stress it is common for your shoulders to lift up. The muscle is held tightly, and a phenomenon called “muscle memory” keeps the muscle in the shortened position. Once the levator scapulae is “stuck” in a  shortened position, when you either bend your neck to the side (bringing your ear closer to your shoulder), or you lift something heavy with your arm, pulling your shoulder down, it pulls on your cervical vertebrae.

This causes your cervical vertebrae to move and puts pressure on your spinal cord right at the base of your brain. The Levator Scapulae has been proven, in my clinical practice, to be the #1 reason for severe headaches. When it gets tight it will pull the insertions at your neck and pull them to the side and down. This causes the bones to press into your spinal cord, right at the base of your brain, and you get a severe headache!

Last month I shared self-treatment techniques to release the tightness in your Levator Scapulae muscles and relieve your tension headaches. If you are suffering from tension headaches, these techniques can work wonders.

Intercostals: The Intercostal muscles are between each rib.  When you breath in, they expand, and when they contract, you breath out.  The problem is, when you are under stress you may hold your breath longer than normal, and muscle memory sets in, and they stay in the shortened position.

As this happens you lose the ability to take a good, deep breath.  This lessens the amount of oxygen that is in your blood and that goes out to your cells.  This can cause problems all over your body.

The solution to this problem is deep breathing exercises. A friend of mine, Tara Clancy, is an expert on breathing and how it affects your entire body.  You can check her out at

Masseter MuscleMasseter: Do you clench your teeth when you are under stress?  The muscle that causes you to clench your teeth is called the masseter muscle.  If you put your fingertips onto your cheeks, pressing into your back teeth you are on your masseter muscle. Clench your teeth, you will feel the muscle bulge as it contracts.

The masseter muscle (circled on graphic) is the muscle that contracts to enable you to chew your food.  Normally, as you chew the muscle shortens, and then lengthens as you put more food into your mouth.  However, if you are under chronic stress, and your teeth stay clenched, your masseter will shorten from muscle memory and put a strain on your jaw joint.  This is the cause of a condition called TMJ.

TMJ is a condition where your jawbone rubs, or “clicks,” over the bone that is just in front of your ear. It is painful, and over time it will damage the bones. When you are under stress and constantly clenching your teeth, you are shortening your masseter muscle. The now-shorter muscle prevents you from opening your jaw completely, for example, when you yawn. As you are trying to yawn your jaw flips over the bone, and it hurts.

Self-Treatment For TMJ

Several years ago, I had a client who had such tight masseter muscles that a dental surgeon was going to sever them so she could open her mouth.  This is a terrible solution because it would mean her mouth would hang open for the rest of her life. Fortunately for this client she had to get medical approval before she could have the surgery.  When Dr. Cohen (the doctor I worked with) felt her masseter muscles, he refused to sign the permission form. He told her that she had to see me first, and fortunately I was there at the time.  It took just 30 minutes for me to release the spasms and teach her how to do the treatment.  At the end of the session she was pressing into both masseter muscles and opening her mouth.  She did it easily and without pain!  She started to cry because she came within one day of having this unnecessary surgery. Her life was changed by just a simple self-treatment!

tmj pain treatment reliefPlace your fingers as shown in the picture to the left.  Clench your teeth so you can feel the muscles bulge.

Apply deep pressure on just one side for 5 seconds. Then release that pressure and apply deep pressure to the opposite side for 5 seconds. Go back and forth until it doesn’t hurt anymore.  Then find a different “hot spot,” and repeat.  Continue doing this until you can’t find any more tender points on your muscle and jaw.

To stretch the masseter muscle just press deeply into the original point on the muscle and slowly open your mouth wide.

Wishing you well,

Julie Donnelly 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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